Djama’a al-Kebir (Great Mosque)
Hegira 530 / AD 1136
Yusuf Ibn Tashufin.
The Great Mosque of Tlemcem, like other Almoravid mosques in the Maghreb, with its balatat (naves) perpendicular to the qibla wall and its rectangular sahn (courtyard) framed by riwaq (galleries) along its shorter sides, represents an archetypal piece of Maghrebi religious architecture. Its basic layout (which did not include the two new galleries in front of the minaret) is rectangular, minus a triangular area in its northwestern part. Its entire length is about 55 metres, and its width is only slightly shorter.
The prayer hall is divided into 13 naves. Seven of these naves extend further than the rest, framing the courtyard on both sides (four on one side and three on the other).
The entrance is surmounted by a sedda (mezzanine) from which the a'yat (muezzin) echoes the invocations of the iman.
Each nave is covered by a tiled, double sloping roof; the structural beams rest on corbels sculpted with plant-motif decoration. The two domes of the balata al-wasta (central nave) are each covered by a tiled roof that slopes on four sides.
Just like the inside of the Great Mosque of Algiers, a quasi-ascetic sobriety contrasts powerfully with the decorated areas, which in this case are limited to the central aisle and to the mihrab it leads to. The front of this aisle is marked out from the courtyard by a poly-lobed arch that is higher than the rest. The rhythmic positioning of the pillars is interrupted by two marble columns that stand two bays in front the mihrab, while a festooned and scalloped arch straddles the nave, following the remaining line of the pillars The mihrab is richly decorated: the semi-circular arch crowning the opening of the niche rests on two marble half-columns. Keystones with foliar decoration radiate out of the curvature, which is delimited by another festooned arch. Two candleholders, pointing out from both sides of this crown, stand out against the dense background of the cornerstones. The arch and the cornerstones are framed by a right-angled alfiz that portrays an inscription in kufic writing. A frieze of acanthus leaves runs above the horizontal band; a frame links the frieze to the set of trefoil blind arches that crowns the whole.
In front of the mihrab a superb dome, ornamented with openwork composed of interlacing fillets, diffuses daylight that has a translucent quality.
With its naves running perpendicular to the qibla wall and its rectangular courtyard surrounded by galleries, Tlemcen Mosque is a good example of Maghrebi religious architecture. The prayer room is divided into 13 covered naves, including the domed central nave. Supported on two small columns, the arch around the mihrab niche is decorated with spandrels framed by two candleholders and three bands with kufic inscriptions. An acanthus-leaf frieze runs around the top of the ensemble.
Through stylistic study and comparison with the Great Mosque of Algiers, G. Marçais dates the mosque 'as well as its Algerian sister mosque, to be from around 1070'. However, an inscription dated 530 / 1136 on the mihrab contradicts this conclusion, and suggests to G. Marçais that this could in fact be the date of its restoration and embellishment.
Bourouiba, R., Apports de l'Algérie à l'architecture arabo-islamique, Algiers, 1986.
Bourouiba, R., L'art religieux musulman en Algérie, Algiers, 1973.
Marçais, G., Tlemcen, 'Les villes d'art célèbres' (collection), Paris, 1950; Blida, 2004.
Ali Lafer "Djama’a al-Kebir (Great Mosque)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;dz;Mon01;1;en
Prepared by: Ali LaferAli Lafer
Architecte diplômé de l'École nationale d'architecture et des beaux-arts d'Alger, stagiaire du Centre international pour la conservation et la restauration des biens culturels (ICCROM) à Rome, Ali Lafer a été architecte en chef des Monuments au ministère de la Culture pendant son service civil. Directeur de l'Atelier Casbah chargé des études d'aménagement de la médina d'Alger, il a également enseigné au cours de Tunis pour la formation d'architectes du patrimoine maghrébin. Membre fondateur de l'association “Les amis du Tassili”, il est aussi chercheur dans les domaines de la numérisation de la documentation graphique et du relevé photogrammétrique.
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Maria Vlotides
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: AL 01